Hearts of Iron II

Also Known As: HoI 2
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Platform(s): PC
Allegiance: Paradox Entertainment
Vintage: 2004
Rating: E
Intelligence Agency Report by: Kuzu Ryu Sen
The year is 1936. Still reeling from the chaos of the Great War and the Great Depression, the world now bears witness to the rise of three nations. In Germany, Adolf Hitler strives to restore Germany to its former economic and military glory. In Italy, the charismatic Benito Mussolini wishes to head a revived modern Roman Empire. In Japan, the military government desires nothing more than to challenge the economic and military might of the Western World as the head of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” Will the Allies crumble under this wave of aggression, or will they strike first? Will Europe be ruled by the Führer and Duce, or by Franco, Mannerheim or Metaxas? Will Stalin’s Red Army unite the workers of the world? Who will the United States side with, or will someone else decide for her? The answers to these questions, along with the course of history, are up to you.

Weapons Expert Report by: Kuzu Ryu Sen 
Overall 9.25
(not an average)
Version Reviewed: PC, Version 1.1 

Hearts of Iron II is most accurately described as an expansion to the first Hearts of Iron. Rather than offer a distinctly different product, Paradox has taken the original and fine-tuned it, adding several new features along the way. There are now several localized scenarios available for play, ranging from historical situations like the Ardennes Offensive or the Winter War, to hypothetical operations such as Fall Grünand Operation Watchtower. While these mini-campaigns have limited single player value because they are purely military oriented, they offer great promise as multiplayer scenarios for that very reason. The simplicity means that, unlike in a full campaign, players will rarely need to pause the game in order to deliver all their commands. 

The gameplay has definitely been improved substantially. The research system has been completely overhauled and is much tidier now. No longer will the player have to sift through half a dozen prerequisite technologies just to research medium tanks. Likewise, combat has also been tweaked significantly. Land combat now begins when the order is given rather than when the unit enters the province, and naval combat is no longer is a sheer slugfest between hordes of capital ships. Diplomacy in the game is also more versatile. Notably, the introduction of money as a device for diplomatic maneuvers reflects the disparity between major powers and minor states more accurately than the old diplomatic points system ever did. Finally, many new commanders, ministers, provinces, historical events, and factions have been either updated or added, making the experience that much more authentic. 

Unfortunately, some minor problems remain. The AI is still somewhat questionable in tactics and diplomacy, and a few balance issues persist, particularly pertaining to pre-1939 Germany and USSR. Several bugs also remain, such as where the game automatically redeploys any liberating unit to your capital when liberating an occupied country that is not a member of your alliance. The good old random crash to desktop “feature” also continues to makes an appearance every once in a while, though thankfully not as frequently as in the original HOI. Furthermore, commander and minister deaths are coded in accordance with their real dates of death, regardless of whether the circumstances that caused them have occurred or not. It is very annoying to have Erwin Rommel die in 1944 regardless of the outcome of the July 20 Coup Attempt.

Aesthetically, the game looks much better than its predecessor, but remains nothing overly special. The interface is cleaner and more pleasing to the eye, and the world map clearly delivers all the vital information required by the General Staff without appearing cluttered. There is a minor problem in the lack of sprite variety, but this can be alleviated somewhat by switching to NATO regulation counters, provided the player is familiar with NATO terminology and symbology. Aurally, the Andreas Waldetoft soundtrack is outstanding. Every track fits the mood perfectly; calming and respectful in peace time, militaristic and Wagnerian in war time. The only problem is that every track is Euro-centric, which feels somewhat out of place when the player is leading Japan or Nationalist China. 

Hearts of Iron II is a game that appeals to a somewhat limited fan base. Both veterans and newcomers to strategy gaming can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that needs to be processed. However, to those who are up to challenge, Hearts of Iron II is the most complete grand war simulation on the market today. Peace or war; subjugation or domination? The fate of the world lies in your hands.